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Breathing desolation

By , Canisteo, NY
As I walk out into the bright sunlight, all I can see is white. White and a face, a face so familiar to me after all the time we had spent together inside. The others were familiar as well, but this face stuck out. His hair is now matted and his teeth stained, his body shriveled and yet he has some sort of beauty to him; beauty in which I cannot understand, beauty to make you curious. Towards the end, I realized why.

The light used to be welcoming to us but that year, turmoil had spoiled it all. Now, when the few remaining of us walk into the light for the first time in what seems like ages, we fear it. It makes us remember the past, and it gives us a common memory. A memory in which we will hardly forget, fraught with struggle, loss, desolation, and everything negative, really.

It all started in April. There was a dress rehearsal for some family thing; all that I can remember is my cousin David being mad. David was a large guy, tall and broad. He grew up thinking he was the world. He ended up being a 20-year-old hot shot, playing college ball. No one knew why he was mad but he was livid. I was 17, (maybe still am) and I decided, after hearing him call “Charlotte!” (my name) that I should stay out of the way.
I took a walk; we were at a cabin in the woods, a very desolate area when it comes to people. I looked at the trees as I walked and realized I had never paid attention to any sort of tree studying we’ve done in school because the beauty of not knowing was far more enticing. I walked on and on, I think I may have circled a few times because I could hear voices every now and then until I continued walking away. All that I could think of was how nice it was to be outside, away from everyone as I listened to the wind softly brush the trees and take in the scent of life. If only I had known it was be stripped of me for so long…
I realized I had been walking for hours, dusk was approaching and I had left around three o’clock. I had to have been out for at least four hours. It was getting rather cold out and I had no idea where I was. I concluded that I didn’t care anymore, that I would sleep in the woods that night and walk until I found another town. My parents wouldn’t miss me, and even if they would, I would never miss them. That’s what I thought anyways. I fell asleep in the hole of a tree trunk and when I woke up, the sun was just rising. I stretched and decided I should find some water. It was getting so warm now, I was thankful that last night wasn’t one of those cold nights, I can’t bare the cold.
I wished they had taught us how to find water at some point in my life. It seemed like hours before I stumbled upon a small creek just enough to scoop some water from. As I sat down to figure out what I would do, I heard a noise. Running, it sounded like a few people. I turned to realize I was right, there were people running towards me. I was oddly not afraid. Even though I was alone in the woods, not a clue where I was and had people running towards me I just couldn’t bring myself to be afraid. They stopped when they got to me, told me I should come with them and got a drink, one of them grabbed my arm so I would move and we ran. I tried asking why we were running but they just kept on going, eyes dead ahead, breathing hard and just running.
We came to a halt, I was breathing heavily. I had joined track a month prior, but I never had really tried and never had I run that much. We probably covered a few miles. I asked what was going on but everyone was watching a tall man with dark hair freeing something from all of the leaves and dirt. It was a door, I couldn’t believe it, they had stopped at a trap door. But how did they know it was there? A boy, maybe my age with short black hair and emerald eyes looked at me. He said, “you’re better off here.” I looked at him, and though I knew I should be frightened, there was just something about him that made me believe him. I stared into his eyes until he looked away, I couldn’t look anywhere else, my thoughts churned so hard, who was he? Finally, they opened the door, a musty smell filled my senses, I didn’t want to subject myself to a stronger smell of that but I climbed in anyway, second to last, just before the man who opened the door, who had to shut it.
Standing on the stairs, unsure of what was going on, all I could smell was dust. I felt repulsive and I hoped no one noticed. Everything was black though; I couldn’t even see my own hand. I was afraid to move forward, I couldn’t tell if I was supposed to. The man behind me fiddled with someone and finally I heard that all so familiar sound of a flipped switch and bright light flooded on. I moved my arm to shield my eyes, as I saw the other do as well. He said he wanted us to see something but it would have to be quick and it would happen at midnight. That we would all meet on the stairs, but for now, we would go and find our beds. My eyes had adjusted more so I walked down the stairs, not squinting too much.
At the bottom of the stairs, there was a room with concrete walls; it looked like a common room. There was furniture that was covered with white sheets. Beyond the room, straight ahead there was a fairly well lighted hallway, and two doors on each side of the room. I decided to follow the hallway. It led me past a few rooms, on both sides and then two at the end of the hall. One was empty and the other was already occupied. I walked into the empty one, which besides lacking people, lacked everything but a mattress and small lamp on the floor. There was a sheet on the bed but more of covering it. It wasn’t tucked in or anything and as I went to tuck it in, a voice came from the doorway. “You might not want to do that,” a male voice said. I turned and realized it was the boy with emerald eyes from earlier. I asked why and he said that it was to keep away the dust, not to sleep on and threw me a clean sheet, blanket and pillow; at least I assumed they were clean. He turned to leave the room and I hesitated about saying something. I needed to know where we were though.

“Hey!” I shouted, he turned and gave me a puzzled look. “Can you help me?” “With what?” he responded. “Well...” I sighed. “Everything. What is going on here? Why am in this place?” He leaned against the wall by the door and slid down to the floor. He looked perplexed, as though he didn’t know what to say. “Well…you see, I’m not really sure if I’m the one to answer that question.” Typical. “There’s something major about to go on outside, only few are chosen to be saved. There are networks of these…apartments and ours is the main one.” He didn’t answer my main concern. “Alright, but why am I here, of all people?” The boy looked at his arms folded across his knees and then looked up at me. “I don’t even know why I’m here. We were to be saved. That’s as much as I know. Maybe you were just in the right place, at the right time.” And with that, he got up, told me dinner was soon and to make my way back to the main area and left what was now my room.
I sat on my bed and wondered. What was going on outside and why was I saved? Was there something special about me that was always overlooked? Or was it just by chance that I was in the woods when they had run by? It just seemed too perfect. I stood up and walked out of the room, down the hall. I passed a door that was open and I noticed it was a bathroom. I about screamed with joy, finally I could be clean and not look like I had just crawled out of a cardboard box on the street. I decided I should shower immediately. The water was freezing but it felt good on my dirty body. I had no way to dry my clothes if I washed them so I had to put the dirty ones back on. At least I felt somewhat cleaner. I probably smelled it too. My hair was still wet and un-brushed but I didn’t care too much, it’s not as if the place was the royal palace. Though, I think it may have been better than my own home. Saying my and home in the same sentence may be a little too much for me to say though, nothing was mine and I didn’t feel like I belonged there.
Entering the main room, I now saw a table and a few couches that had been uncovered. The table was being set. A dozen or so plates and chairs were around and God was the smell enticing. I still don’t know what exactly we ate that night, but it was delicious. The meals there were always great. One of the only things I truly miss. Besides being away from everything, being able to think, and some of the people.
I sat down, almost the last person to be seated; the only seats that were left were on either side of the dreamy boy I had spoken with earlier. I learned throughout that first dinner that his name was Gavin and he had been homeschooled, but lived in the same town as I had. He maintained such chivalry and he had a perfect sense of humor. Just as we were laughing at how the dog warden had once been chasing a dog and drove his truck into a pole trying to grab a dog, leaning out of his truck window there was a pounding above. Everyone went silent and looked towards what I assumed was the headman. “Don’t worry, let them run, continue on” he said.
After dinner was over, I sat down on a couch next to a woman with blonde hair and a red blouse who looked to be in her thirties. She didn’t say much, besides introducing herself as Lucy. What an odd name, Lucy. It reminded me of my grandmother, she was practically in love with the show “I love Lucy.” It was close to midnight Lucy told me, so I would know to adjourn to the stairs soon. She was wearing a yellow watch, I noted because I loved the color. I got up and walked over to the stairs where a few were gathered already and they were chatting about dinner still.
The man walked up the stairs and asked if everyone was there. Since everyone was in the common room area and they were getting up to walk over. He said once he opens the door he only has a few moments to leave it open but he wanted to show us. We all nodded and murmured our understanding. He moved the latches open and turned the old fashioned lock and push the door open. We were instantly blinded by the light. A light so bright and hot I couldn’t breathe or see. A few people yelled, frightened and maybe even in shock. Now I understood better why it was that we were inside. I just didn’t understand why it was happening. All I knew was to be thankful I was in here and not out there, probably burning to death. Everyone was talking about what it could mean but the man just walked away. His name was Joseph. Gavin was talking to a shorter woman with red hair, she turned to walk away, and so he looked to me, he asked what I thought. I didn’t know what to say. “I’m baffled, utterly baffled.” He agreed and said we should both get some rest.
I walked into my room; the hall light was still on so I walked over, turned on my lamp, closed my door and lay in bed. There was a chair I had over looked and on it was a small suitcase. I got up and opened up the suitcase. In it, I found clean clothes. I was so thankful. Until I realized, they were my clothes, from my house. I decided not to fret about how they got there in that room and so I changed into my pajamas and fell asleep on my mattress.
I woke up, stretched searched for my toothbrush and walked to the bathroom. I had to wait for someone to get out of it. Last night I hadn’t paid much attention to the bathroom but it was much cleaner looking than the rest of the “apartment” that I decided to call the bat cave. I brushed my teeth, fixed my hair and walked to the common room. Breakfast was a buffet, sitting on the table and I got some toast. I don’t like to eat a lot in the morning.
A girl who appeared to be a year or two younger than I was and had platinum blonde hair was getting her food as I was and we started talking. Her name turned out to be Hannah. By the time we were allowed to leave, we were close. We learned much about each other and being in that situation, it was nice to have a best friend. It was nice to have a friend I could trust in general.
After a few weeks, she asked me if I had talked to Gavin much. She said he seemed worried about me. They had been friends before this had all started and so they had talked. I decided that later that night, I would approach Gavin and try to really talk to him, more than just the casual “hey, how’s it going?” I was hoping he would talk to me first and he did. I discovered that he was actually meant to look out for me. He wouldn’t tell me by whom. Just that he was more than happy to be obliged.
It became the three of us, friends and always together. We tried to be considerate of everyone else who was older and tried to sleep but for us it was almost like an endless sleep over. Sometimes we would get frustrated or depressed but we made it through together. One night, I walked into Hannah’s room and she was crying. Gavin came in shortly after I did and we sat and talked of how we missed the outside. We made a decision that we would talk to Joseph in the morning. Chief Joseph, as he was dubbed.
After dinner that night, we asked Joseph when he would allow us to leave and he said “Soon. I will not hold you here forever. I do not wish to be here myself. For now, it’s not safe outside.” It’s funny how in the “real world” if you stayed inside, as a hermit, you may be called a coward but now, if you ventured outside, you may be called an imbecile.
Days went by after our talk with Chief Joseph until one night, at dinner he stood up and said he had something to say. “These many, many weeks have been hard on all, I understand. Through being here, some of us have made great bonds. Ones that we should hopefully not give up when this is all over. We do not know why we are here, why we were chosen and you do not know when you may leave. You must trust me when I say that I have enjoyed this time. When you take your first breath of fresh air, remember what you went through. Remember all the frustrations you had. Remember your life before we came down here. Take it all in, and appreciate everything you have. The world was never going to end. Each of you was going to end your part of the world though, by ruining yourselves. You’ve lived in dirt and grime and ate the same meal every night. You lived everyday differently though and enjoyed what you had. Now enjoy what you have when you wake up in the morning.” He got up and walked away.
I fell asleep that night wondering when we would leave. I didn’t care where I ended up when I went out into the woods because I hated the life I was leaving behind and walking away felt so right. I was never accepted, and never loved. I lived with different family all the time because my parents were too busy elsewhere. The truth is, I was happy to be ‘The Bat Cave.’ I was happy to have friends. I was happy to know I would always be fed. In the morning, I awoke to Gavin and Hannah chatting outside my room. I asked them to come in and they did. They had told me about their lives that morning. Things we had never been strong enough to tell before. We had all had it rough. We had all loved being down there, because of each other. Food had started running short and the shower had stopped working weeks ago. We smelled, we needed haircuts and to shave, but we could still laugh without having to plug our noses too much.
Gavin walked to get food and when he came back, he told us “there are three bags on the table, of food and water. And a note.” The note said, “The door is unlocked, the world is yours.” We looked at each other and slowly got up. We passed the table, grabbed a bag each and walked out into the bright sunlight for the first time in what felt like forever. We could breathe. We took that moment to realize what had happened. I knew now that no matter what, life would always get me down. I didn’t need to be afraid of anything because I could always find someone to help. I would need to make my own way, not blame others for my misfortune. I would make something of myself. It was then that I opened my eyes to the light and realized that it was welcoming after all. Though, I missed the bat cave already.
I looked over and saw Gavin looking up at the trees. He did have a beauty to him. He was always there; I had seen him so many times before and never realized it was him. Gavin was the one that was said to have killed himself a few years back. I finally realized why he always looked so comforting and trustworthy. He once was my best friend. He had changed so much since then. I turned to him and I could tell, he knew that I knew. He smiled and I turned to thank Hannah but she was gone.





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